He may be the Second Coming to many San Franciscans - but one local Catholic priest wants a popular prayer candle with President Obama's picture on it pulled from a local gift shop, saying it "mocks Jesus" and "depicts our beloved saints in a not so saintly way."
The Rev. Tony La Torre of St. Philip the Apostle Church, in ever-hip Noe Valley, is so riled up that he's calling for a boycott of the neighborhood's Just For Fun card and novelty shop, which has been selling the $15 candles at a fast clip.
The candles feature the president's halo-adorned head plastered onto the crucifix-clutching body of St. Martin de Porres, the Peruvian-born friar regarded as one of the first black saints in the Americas.
"I am appalled that in such a family-oriented neighborhood, any retailer would be so bigoted and so hateful (as) to carry such merchandise just to 'make a buck,' " La Torre declared recently in the parish newsletter.
Store owners Robert Ramsey and David Eiland say they've sold more than 700 candles since putting them on display over the Christmas holiday.
And while the candles are a big hit, Ramsey says they're not much different from the line of gag gifts they've been selling without complaint at the store on upper 24th Street for the past 22 years.
"Believe me, there is a lot of nasty stuff you can sell - you can get it down in the Castro," Ramsey said. "This is just fun stuff."
Besides Hula Hoops, Barbie lunch bags and Valentine heart trinkets, the novelty store stocks such joke religious items as Jesus pencil erasers, "Beware of Nunzilla" wind-up toys and, most recently, the Obama devotional candles.
But to La Torre, the candles featured in a big window display were "the final straw" for a store "that feels the need to mock and ridicule the Catholic/Christian faith."
It's not first time "anti-Catholic, anti-Christian" attitudes, as La Torre calls them, have been decried in the city.
A couple of years back, Archbishop George Niederauer said he had been duped into giving communion to a couple of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence - cross-dressing, prankster "nuns" - prompting outrage from religious conservatives across the country.
The candle commotion might have passed quickly, except that La Torre also described the store's owners as Jewish (they're not) and urged parishioners not only to boycott the store but to "be sure to poke your head in ... and tell them why."
The San Francisco Archdiocese weighed in, contacting the priest to express its concern over his "Jewish" reference. La Torre has since retracted the reference, saying he only meant that the owners - if Jewish, as he says he was led to believe - "should know what it feels like to be mocked and ridiculed."
The flap hit the front page of the local Noe Valley Voice, and the store's owners found themselves besieged with questions from all sides.
The owners ignored La Torre's offer to meet with them to discuss his concerns, but did post a copy of the priest's newsletter in their store window - right next to the king-size, 2-foot-tall version of the Obama candle that had set him off.
So far, the only effect of the controversy seems to be free advertising and a demand for even more candles.
"Tomorrow, I got 72 more coming," :applause: :applause: :applause: Ramsey said.